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Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00
8/31/2007 throiugh 9/2/2007
Reviewed by Diane Carson
To quote the cliché, dying is easy, comedy is hard. Indeed, of all film types, comedy is also the most subjective. Add foreign elements to this volatile mix, and communication difficulties increase, as illustrated by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's droll Lights in the Dusk. Probably still best known for his 1989 Leningrad Cowboys Go America, Kaurismaki has a decidedly slow, quiet, deadpan humor. He requires a considerable shift from expectations of any fast, witty, or buoyant elements to enjoy this 78 minute film.

Lights in the Dusk is internally coherent and consistent, though it's too low key for any enthusiasm on my part. Those who can settle in for small, tongue-in-cheek moments will enjoy the change of pace with central character Koistinen who works as a security guard in Helsinki. Shunned by his colleagues, Koistinen's relative isolation and irritation sets the plot into motion.

Taking advantage of Koistinen's vulnerability and the kindness he shows a sweet dog, a Russian gang targets Koistinen as easy prey for Mirja, their attractive female conspirator, to victimize. In the most amusing scene, Mirja meets Koistinen and soon accompanies him as he begins his security check of the mall he protects. The predictable, subsequent robbery leads to unexpected incidents, several involving Aila, a woman who runs a food van. I'd have loved more of her. All the incidents cast a dreary pall over the proceedings, presented with desaturated colors and slow editing.

Establishing long shots of Helsinki show a relatively lifeless, concrete world devoid of an inviting landscape. As such, Lights in the Dust joins two other Kaurismaki films as a sad commentary on modern society. Drifting Clouds focused on unemployment while The Man Without a Past depicted the rough world of homelessness. This entry on loneliness, loyalty, and the lack of joy in life completes a loose trilogy. A talented filmmaker like Kaurismaki will certainly continue in his own unique voice. He reveals a great deal very economically and directs meticulously with well-chosen, complementary music. But I for one hope he finds some more joyful, satisfying fare to present.

Lights in the Dust is in Finnish and Russian with English subtitles. At Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 8p.m. from Friday, August 31st through Sunday, September 2nd [2007].

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